Renewable energy, especially solar, is making inroads into the U.S. power grid, but it's a very slow process.

And especially in the wake of the Solyndra collapse, it's one fraught with political wrangling.

But there's another country that plans to invest heavily in solar power, hoping to provide fully 30 percent of its energy needs from the sun in just 20 years.

That country is...Saudi Arabia.

Yes, the conservative kingdom and longtime U.S. ally wants to cut its own oil use.

Today, Saudi Arabia burns 850 million barrels of oil a year. That represents almost a third of its total production.

Later this year, the nation is expected to approve very ambitious plans for a massive array of renewable energy projects. The first installations should be completed next year.

The goal within two decades is for the country to have 25,000 megawatts of electricity coming rom solar-thermal plants, which use huge mirror arrays to focus sunshine into a concentrated ray that heats fluid into steam to drive turbine generators.

It also expects to create 16,000 megawatts of capacity using large arrays of photovoltaic solar cells, which are slowly but consistently falling in price as more production capacity comes online--particularly in China, which has made the industry a government priority.

Saudi Arabia also plans to add an additional 21,000 megawatts from other non-oil sources, including geothermal, wind, and nuclear plants.

The entire plan is expected to cost $109 billion, for which the country is seeking investment partners.

Industry analysts say the country can earn a healthy return on the investment by displacing a third of the oil it now consumes and selling that on the open market.

In other words, one of our major sources of imported oil thinks that spending more than $100 billion to cut its own oil consumption is a good deal--because we'll pay them more than that for the oil they don't use.

The next time U.S. drivers pay $4 a gallon or more for gasoline, that may be worth keeping in mind.


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